Can Ava DuVernay Save the Justice League?

Justice League

It’s no secret that DC Comics has yet to find the key to success with their films. While Wonder Woman did well enough, Justice League failed to live up to expectations despite bringing Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the Flash on-screen together for the first time. The lack of success hasn’t stopped DC’s parent company Time-Warner from chugging along with plans for potentially dozens more DC movies, in and out of the Justice League continuity. Long story short, DC’s film plan is a clusterfuck with no sort of direction.

In an effort to right the ship, Warner announced that Ava DuVernay was going to helm a film based on The New Gods from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. Justice League‘s main antagonist Steppenwolfe is one of the New Gods, so it’s likely that the New Gods film will set the stage for future Justice League installments, but is it enough to turn the franchise around?

For those of you not familiar with The New Gods, it’s a part of the Fourth World series created by comics legend Jack Kirby when he left Marvel for DC in the early 1970s. Kirby was given free reign to take over any book DC was publishing and he famously chose Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen as it was the only title without a regular creative team and he didn’t want to take a book away from anyone. The title was actually a sequel to Kirby’s work with Thor, with the New Gods and their twin planets of Apokolips and New Genesis coming into existence in the aftermath of Ragnarok, which destroyed the Old Gods (the Norse pantheon depicted in Marvel’s Journey Into Mystery).

Kirby, a New Deal Democrat in his 50s, crafted a sprawling epic drenched in the politics and culture of the 1970s, with good guys who brought to mind the hippies and civil rights campaigners and fascist villains based on right-wing political figures like Richard Nixon and Billy Graham. The stories mainly focused on the villanous Darkseid’s search for the Anti-Life Equation, a mathematical formula that would allow him to control the hearts and minds of anyone.

Over the years, Kirby’s characters became a major part of the DC Universe, especially Darkseid, who had a more traditional comic book evil look, contrasted with off-beat characters like TV preacher Glorious Godfrey and chemical weapons manufacturer Doctor Bedlam. With Justice League clearly foreshadowing a meeting between DC’s greatest heroes and Darkseid, the New Gods movie looks to be an important part of their overall cinematic universe.

Ava DuVernay might be the perfect director for Kirby’s work. She’s had two hit films, one of which was a grounded political film about the late 1960s and the other a science fiction adventure; The New Gods lies almost directly in the center of where those two things would overlap on a Venn diagram. She even named a Fourth World character Big Barda, partially based on Jack Kirby’s wife, as her favorite comic book character a while back.

Of course, as we saw with Wonder Woman, one good film isn’t enough to rescue a franchise. A New Gods film will be one of the most important pieces of the DC puzzle, and putting it in Ava DuVernay’s capable hands is a good start. But DC is one for five in their DCEU, and they have a slate packed with films that just seems to be throwing things at the wall and hoping something sticks. There’s like, four different Harley Quinn movies in the works, which are potentially all unrelated to each other. The upcoming solo Batman film lost its villain, Deathstroke the Terminator, to a spin-off movie and probably won’t have Ben Affleck as Batman.

While I expect Ava DuVernay to make the best possible movie version of Jack Kirby’s The New Gods, I don’t think anything can turn DC’s film fortunes around at this point. When Marvel made Iron Man, they had a vision. DC has no vision, no plan, no road map for their films. They also don’t seem to understand the characters. Batman and Superman are beloved icons, but the DC films haven’t brought the things people love about them to the screen. With almost two dozen films in development or slated for release, DC seems to be going for quantity over quality. And we don’t even know if DuVernay’s New Gods will even tie into their larger cinematic universe or if it’ll just be a one-off like the Joaquin Phoenix Joker film.

It is of course entirely possible that DC could abandon their plan to create a cinematic universe to compete with Marvel entirely, instead focusing on one-off films. This might be DC’s best chance, because they’re not going to do what Marvel has done better than Marvel. Ava DuVernay’s New Gods movie will probably be successful, as will the Wonder Woman sequel. DC’s foray into a huge comic book film franchise has accomplished the opposite of Marvel’s; they’ve brought down valuable properties where Marvel boosted unknown franchises. I’m sure the allure of making a billion dollars on a Bulleteer film is tempting, but DC will just have to settle for making good movies with beloved characters like Batman and Superman. They just need to start, you know, actually making good movies.

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